Bong Go Daily: Media aid and abet premature campaigning
A YEAR before Elections 2022 and months before the official campaign period, media seemed to have been touched by political fever, publishing the names and faces of those testing the waters or simply seeking the required exposure that will support a candidacy in the making. Whether on mainstream or social media, any exposure is gold in this period.
This early, media have bombarded the public with advertorials and press releases passed off as news. One particular politician has denied interest in running for higher office, but seems to never shy away from publicity. Christopher “Bong” Go won a seat in the Senate after having served as close-in aide to Duterte as mayor and then as president. He continued to do the same after he became senator. As a member of the Senate, he has continued to serve as a constant companion to the president, taking photos, issuing statements, and securing his own hold on public attention.
He now seems to be gunning for the presidency in 2022, as was revealed by the president himself last March 11 in a speech at the inauguration of a port area building in Negros Oriental. Go said Duterte was just kidding, but added he might run for president after all if Duterte decides to be his running mate. This “I’m not running but …” gimmick did get quite a bit of attention for Duterte even before he declared himself presidential candidate for 2016.
From March 15 to April 15, CMFR monitored six broadsheets (the Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, the Manila Bulletin, The Manila Times, Manila Standard, and The Daily Tribune,) and four primetime news programs (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA-7’s 24 Oras, TV5’s Frontline Pilipinas and CNN Philippines’ News Night).
CMFR found that in just one month, the Tribune and the Times gave Go print space on a daily basis. The Tribune topped the list with 30 reports, while the Times came close with 29. The Star ranked third by publishing 13, the only one of the top three newspapers in circulation which has joined the Bong Go publicity train. Meanwhile, other broadsheets only published one or two stories on Go, a small count when compared with the three above-mentioned newspapers.
Reports carried just about anything Go would say, any expression of his unquestioned support and loyalty to Duterte and his projects. Headlines such as “Kuya Bong: Vaccines are coming” and “Don’t be complacent, Go warns public” are obvious puff pieces, given his position as legislator with no authority on vaccines or virus-related issues. Go’s call for further study on the anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment also saw print. His comments on areas that need improvement in the pandemic response, as well as his messages to fellow Filipinos, were also published. But whatever he says on these matters have little news value, given his limited expertise about them.
The three newspapers also followed the senator when he distributed aid, particularly to survivors of fires and victims of typhoons; any effort by other politicians to do the same was not afforded the same media treatment.
Go was not the only politician whose press releases were published by the media despite their lack of news value. Among them were Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and her nationwide tarpaulin drive, and Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III on his electoral bets. However, none were covered as prominently and as frequently as Go. Vice President Leni Robredo also gained some space with her observations on the government’s pandemic response. But the VP has been engaged in all kinds of activities in response to the needs caused by the pandemic, and many of these have received widespread support from expert groups, as well as donors.
The Election law is riddled with all kinds of problems. The media could do better in preparing the electorate for 2022, instead of serving as campaign vehicles for “free” publicity for candidates who are not even deserving of media attention.
There is a whole slew of rules on premature campaigning issued by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that raises all kinds of legitimate concerns which the media should take up as policy news. Those rules deserve more discussion in the media for the loopholes they provide for the non-compliant.